This post is the third in a series I’m calling “Freshman Fifteen” – a set of fifteen posts that will walk you up to and into your freshman year of college. Read up on the first post here, or just dive in:
Honesty hour – it took me until sophomore year to choose a major. If you’re undeclared, too, I feel you. And even if you’ve chosen a major, you might be thinking – how do I know it’s right for me? Choosing a college major is a pretty intimidating task, which is why I think I put if off so long. So this third Freshman Fifteen post will walk you through the process of choosing your major. The one that’s just right for you.
Choosing Your Major in College
If You Have a Major in Mind
If you’ve declared a major, do me a favor – don’t get complacent. I know so many people who have ended up trapped in major they don’t love, or don’t even like, because they weren’t sure what they were looking for. If you’ve already declared a major (or just have a strong idea), then keep these tips in mind:
Take lots of classes in that major your first year – and especially your first semester. Transferring can get a little tricky the longer you wait, so just confirm that you were right, and you love your major. I’m not saying don’t explore or work on gen eds, either. But don’t skimp on required classes just because you can get away with it at first, or in the name of “easing yourself in.” You don’t want to spend too long in a major you aren’t sure you love.
Use the community – If you know your major, get involved with it. Undeclared students might have more flexibility in their schedules, but they also don’t have a clear roadmap or support structure. You do! Get to know your major, whether it’s directly through your department, or by way of an independent student group. Get to know some upperclassmen who have been there, done that. And then ask your elders about the best teachers, hardest classes, and what they wish they’d known earlier.
Network like crazy – You’re never going to be surrounded by this many diverse, like-minded people with similar interests again, so take advantage! This advice applies to everyone, but especially to you. Your classmates will go into the same industry as you – or likely something related. They’ll be all over the country, or even the world. I’m not just saying “get on LinkedIn and add your group project members,” I’m saying make meaningful personal and professional connections wherever you can, even if meeting new people is intimidating. The LinkedIn thing isn’t a terrible idea, though.
Getting to Know Your Options
For those of you who are still undecided, I feel your pain. I’ve written before about what to expect as an undeclared student, so read up if you’re feeling unsure! Beyond that, here’s some more targeted advice to help you narrow down your options and use your time in college to pursue the stuff you love:
Do some research – There are a million lists on the internet – read ’em. (I’m not writing you one, sorry.) If it sounds even vaguely interesting, write it down, learn a little more about it later. Narrow down your list to a few – say, three to five – that you really want to learn more about, and then dig deep. Check the internet, get in touch with that major’s department on your campus, ask your advisor, go to a meeting or two with an affiliated student group. Literally, just learn as much as possible, even if it seems like too much work. It’s better than doing something you hate for the next four years. (Or the rest of your life.)
Explore a little – Simply put – take classes that sound interesting. You’ve got the benefit of a really flexible schedule when you’re undeclared, so put it to use while you can. Just keep your goals in mind. Sure, underwater basket weaving might sound like a fun class, but will it help you find your major and pursue your passions? Unless it speaks to your soul, probably not. (That’s more of a second-semester-senior-year class).
Talk to your advisor – Everyone should do this early and often, but it’s especially critical for those who aren’t quite sure. Schedule your appointments, show up on time, and come prepared. Feeling lost? Ask about your school’s offerings and how they align with your goals, no matter how nebulous those goals may be. The cool thing about advisors is that helping you find your passion and succeed at it is literally their job. Think of them as the wise mentor character in your superhero origin story, and heed their sage advice.
Passion v. Practicality
I’m so tired of the debate between “do what you love” and “do something that makes money so you can fund what you love,” guys. I’m so tired of it. As an English major, I’m clearly in the “passion” camp, but that doesn’t mean I’m a hopeless idealist.
This really doesn’t have to be a competition – No, seriously. As crazy as it may sound, colleges have so, so many majors. No matter what you love to do, you can find (or make!) a path that allows you to convert your passions into marketable job skills. The moment you start thinking about college as a tradeoff between what you love and what you have to do, you’ve lost the battle. You should be fighting to have it all, not choosing between self-fulfillment and abject poverty.
Also, passion > practicality if you’re good at your passion and hate what’s practical – This is not just some fluff I’m feeding you to make you feel better about your choice either. Seriously, someone did the math on this. (Not me, someone you can trust with this level of math.) You’ll do better in the top percentage of English degree holders than you will in the bottom percentage of marketing degree holders. Is a business degree more traditionally practical? Sure. But if it’s going to make you miserable, you won’t perform well, so you’re better off pursuing something you love and you’re good at.
Either way: talk. To. Your. Advisor.
Advisors are incredible resources – These are people literally getting paid to help you figure your life out. No matter where you are in college, they can help you take one step further. But they also have a lot of students to help. So do your part – reach out to your advisor, schedule your appointments, and actually show up. I’m so guilty of changing my mind at the last minute and not going, and figuring out your life can be intimidating – but nothing’s scarier than not planning your future.
But you have to go often – Here’s the thing – if you meet and advisor once and expect them to outline your ten-year plan, you’re going to be disappointed. Advisors are human. They need some time to get to know you, hear about opportunities, and do research on your individual needs. If you only meet with your advisor once a semester to plan classes, they’re not going to be able to give you much help. Visit early and visit often to start a dialogue about where you’re going and what you’re doing.
Don’t Get Overwhelmed!
I know this seems like so much information to keep track of. I won’t deny it, choosing your major can be kind of research intensive – and then we all have that terrible habit of forgetting all our questions and ideas when we’re under pressure. To help you out, I’ve pulled together a “Choosing Your Major” worksheet that will help you organize your thoughts and remember your questions, perfect for when you finally get into that advising appointment!